Altitude-Challenged: Why the Colorado Rockies Will Never Win a World Series
So long as the Colorado Rockies are stuck playing half of their games in thin air, their chances of winning a World Series will be suffocated.
By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game
Posted July 14, 2005
The Colorado Rockies will never win a World Series. It’s as sure as the sun rising east of Coors Field.
Human error is not the culprit. Nor is inferior player talent or front office incompetence—though they’re currently appears to be enough of that in Denver.
The permanent roadblock barring the Rockies from forever becoming baseball’s world champions boils down to a number: 5,280.
There’s no place in the majors that plays anywhere near the mile-high elevation that Denver sits for the Rockies. And while fans may get a kick out of the constant obesity of offense at Coors Field, the thin air has grown old on exhausted Rockies’ pitchers who are the victims of the non-stop batting barrages. Starters, relievers and closers alike share the pain; they’re tired, spent and desperate for more oxygen to make it easier to pitch a curve ball—or to catch their breath. It’s an indefinite trend that takes place every April through September; by October, Colorado pitchers are too busy healing the trauma of the shellshock to watch the postseason on TV. Which is the only way they’ll experience it.
And which is why the Rockies will never win a World Series.
Hitters, of course, love Coors Field. Look at the numbers. The high-altitude statistics have made gods on paper out of former Rockie hitters like Charlie Hayes, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks and Jeff Cirillo. Traded elsewhere, they become little more than common players, trying to adjust to life minus the atmospheric spoils of Colorado. Todd Helton, the team’s lone hitting star of the moment, has put up enough offense to make him a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame—but only he was playing elsewhere.
Yet it all comes back to the pitching. The Rockie hurlers are simply handicapped. The vicious cycle they deal with every season is as repetitive as the clock spinning ’round.
The average pitch count for a home team is 140. At Coors Field, it’s 155 for the Rockies.One pitcher starts. With the ball flying longer and faster one mile high, he’ll be lucky to make it to the seventh inning. Often he’ll be gone by the fifth, having thrown lots of pitches, many of them clobbered. The starter’s departure means work for the bullpen. Lots of work. The relievers are no more immune to the elements. Like the starters, their recovery time is at a premium. Eventually the Rockies escape Colorado and head on a road trip where the air is thicker, but the stress of going on the road—the planes, the hotels, playing as strangers in a strange land—doubles for the stress of getting hammered by opposing hitters back home. And it’s back home they eventually return, ready to face more hitting fire. And thus the vicious cycle continues.
And that’s why the Rockies will never win a World Series.
True, pitchers from opposing teams also suffer under the mile-high conditions, but they only have to show up once, twice, maybe three times a season. The Rockies are stuck there for 81 games every year, with the fatigue building up like the Colorado snowpack in winter.
It’s not that the Rockies haven’t tried to whittle down the disadvantage. Over the years, they’ve seduced all-star caliber pitchers with bags of money to outwit the elevation, but the thin air has proven, among other things, that it does not discriminate. Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton and Danny Neagle all came to Denver having proved their dominance at sea level, but their brief Rockie tenures were, well, rocky—full of humility, embarrassment and mostly failure attached to an earned run average around 6.00. Hampton at least could hit like the best of the Rockie sluggers, but the last thing the team needed was more firepower.
Some blame Coors Field, but the dimensions there are among the most spacious in baseball. Sure, you can shove the fences back and reduce the number of altitude-aided home runs, but in return the ballpark will become more conducive for doubles, triples and, oh yes, inside-the-park homers. The zap on the ball will do damage one way or another.
Okay, so sap the zap. The Rockies tried that a few years ago, de-humidifying the baseballs before game time in an attempt to deaden them. Didn’t quite work.
About all that’s left is to build a giant pit 5,280 feet below the surface of Denver, build a new ballpark and send the Rockies downstairs. The elevator shaft ride alone will be worth the price of admission for the fans.
Until then, the Rockies are stuck a mile high in thin air at Coors Field.
Which is why the Rockies will never win a World Series.
The Rockies recently won a 1-0 game at Coors Field. It’s the first such score in the ballpark’s 11 years of operation.The Rockies are quickly running out of the few advantages they’ve enjoyed since their 1993 inception. Their fans, so rabidly loyal for the team’s first ten years, have gone into summer hibernation; attendance in 2005 will barely clear two million, a number that includes hundreds of thousands of unused tickets. After the disastrous Denver stays of Kile, Hampton and Neagle, no free agent ace pitcher will touch the Rockies. And even if one did, the Rockies likely wouldn’t have the funds to make it worth the challenge; the declining gate revenues combined with a recently reorganized, more bureaucratic ownership in Denver will all but guarantee that he’ll sign elsewhere.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better for the Rockies. Half of the team’s payroll to start 2005 was tied up in two players—Helton and Preston Wilson. Much of the rest is being divvied up between some 15 youngsters, each of whom are earning little more than major league minimum wages. The Rockies, who in 14 years have made just one postseason appearance (as a NL Wild Card in the strike-shortened 1995 campaign) and haven’t had a winning season since 2000 (when they barely made it at 82-80), are struggling through what is bound to be their worst year ever. And if putting up with the horrors of Coors Field isn’t bad enough, the Rockies are challenging the modern major league mark for the worst road record in one season.
When things do get better—if they do, that is—the harsh reality is that the elevated conditions will allow the Rockies to perform only well enough to win 85, maybe 90 games. Punching a hole through that ceiling will take something uncanny. Like the team hitting .500 at home. Or putting forth a superhuman presence on the road. Or, creating some baseball version of Feng Shui to give Rockie pitchers the inner strength to rise above the altitude and pitch like Roger Clemens.
Until then, look for the Rockies to continue being bogged down in one 12-10 slugfest after another, to exhaust their rotation and bullpen beyond belief, to stay weighed down in the NL West by the thin air of Colorado. And all because of this, the Rockies will never win a World Series.
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